Junior Rangers

The junior ranger concept was first developed in 2002/03 by the EUROPARC Federation and since then the model has been been taken up by more than 50 protected areas across Europe. Over the past few years several protected landscapes in the UK have also run their own youth / junior ranger programmes. The Mendip Hills AONB, for example, also hosted the 2010 international junior ranger camp, which brought together young people and their mentor rangers from across Europe.

With the concept gathering support in the Atlantic Isles region, EAI held training seminars in 2010 and 2011 at which the development of an EAI youth ranger network was put forward. This plan is currently being developed under the guidance of EAI Board Member Chris Gledhill.

EAI has been successful in acquiring a grant from the EU’s Youth in Action programme for a project entitled ‘Establishing a Young Ranger Network’, which started in the summer of 2012 and comes to an end in July 2013. The project has put junior rangers at the heart of developing a junior ranger network for the benefit of young people and the staff of protected landscapes. Indeed, junior rangers from the Cairngorms National Park, Isle of Anglesey AONB, Mendip Hills AONB and Northumberland Coast AONB have central to the project.

Thanks to the work of the project participants EAI published a good practice guide for protected landscapes in the EAI network. It sets out the benefits of junior ranger programmes, all the factors to be considered in running a programme and also a whole host of ideas for young ranger activities. As the network grows the guide will be updated to reflect new ideas and experience from elsewhere.

Young rangers define their ideal ranger programmes

At the first meeting of our new project group ‘Establishing a Young Ranger Network’ held on the 8th and 9th August 2012 in the Mendip Hills AONB young rangers played an active role in developing plans for the network.

Matthew McDonald-Smith, young ranger from the Northumberland Coast AONB, focused on rock climbing, with a morning looking at training and safety equipment, to be followed in the afternoon by climbing, investigating wildlife and geology, and concluding by abseiling down.

With the Olympics still in the memory, Aaron Jones from Anglesey, described an archery course. This would start off learning about the history of archery and be followed up with techniques for building equipment using natural materials. Learning about the properties of trees, natural resources and survival techniques would all be integral to the course, which would finish off with target practice!

Northumberland Coast AONB young ranger Ed Harrison also presented sporting and survival activities in his proposed canoeing day, which would involve finding food in nature, learning about the wildlife along the river, making a shelter, waste management and recycling. A return canoe trip would round off the day.

A varied day was also put forward by Liam Ault, who proposed a morning in a place with abundant wildlife and learning how to protect it. The afternoon would be spent with rather more sporting activities reflecting his seaside roots in Anglesey, learning windsurfing techniques

The ideas were presented as part of the meeting, which examined the young ranger schemes in the participating AONBs of the Mendip Hills, Northumberland Coast and Isle of Anglesey, as well as the Cairngorms National Park. Elements of good practice were identified and the next steps in the project defined. A research questionnaire is now being finalised that will be circulated to protected landscapes across the UK, before being analysed by the young rangers and their mentors.

A ‘graduate’ of the Mendip Hills AONB’s young ranger programme, Laura Blanchard, also provided valuable insights, as did Aled Lewis, Community Warden at the Isle of Anglesey AONB, the project’s Coach Andy Mallender, Project Development Officer at the Mendip Hills AONB, and Iain Robson, Access and Natural Environment Officer at the Northumberland Coast AONB. Busy on their exchange with junior rangers from the Bavarian Forest National Park, Alan Smith, Outdoor Learning Officer at the Cairngorms National Park, contributed via telephone. EAI’s coordination was led by Board Member Chris Gledhill and Development Adviser Richard Blackman.

The research results will lead to the publication of a good practice guide on young ranger programmes for the UK’s protected landscapes. This is the first stage in establishing a young ranger network, with plans for a support network for protected landscape staff, a UK-wide young ranger camp, and a young ranger forum all envisaged in the future.

The project group met again from 15th to 17th February in the Northumberland Coast AONB, with all the participants contributing ideas, experiences and information to be included in the good practice guide.

EAI is grateful to the British Council and the EU’s Youth in Action programme for the funding making this project possible.